By MARK GARBINO
Senior midfielder A.J. Albers scored the lone goal for UNH as the Wildcats topped the University of Massachusetts Minutemen 1-0 Saturday night at Bremner Field.
The goal came at the 54:34 mark of the game, as midfielder Fazal Nabi connected with Albers. Nabi beat the UMass defender around the outside with fancy footwork and quick feet, gaining enough space to cross the ball from the left corner. Albers came streaking through the box and leapt to get his head on the ball, beating two defensemen and the goalkeeper to break the scoreless tie.
UNH immediately applied pressure on UMass goalkeeper Bardia Asefnia off the opening kick off. Asefnia entered the game having allowed 13 goals in six games this season. About five-and-a-half minutes into the game, midfielder Chris Arling received a pass down the right side of the field and ripped a shot from just inside the box, beating the goalkeeper but not the crossbar. The rebound came out to Nabi who got another shot on goal, but it was stopped by Asefnia and cleared out.
The Minutemen’s first shot on goal came around the 23-minute mark of the first half, and it was a quality scoring chance. The ball was crossed into the box from the right side and volleyed on goal, but UNH goalkeeper Ryan Carpenter was in the perfect position to make the save.
The Wildcats controlled play for the majority of the first half, outshooting UMass 12-2, but the game remained scoreless.
UNH continued to apply offensive pressure early in the second half, and the team was nearly rewarded two minutes in. Nabi found midfielder Jimmy Petruccelli with a pass through three Minutemen, and he took a one-timer from about 23 yards out, missing the near post by a mere foot.
When the final horn sounded, the Wildcats had claimed their fifth win of the season, improving to 5-0-1 overall.
Following the game, UNH coach Marc Hubbard was pleased with his team’s performance, especially in the first half, but still sees plenty of room for improvement.
“I thought it was the best half we put together, that first half, but we couldn’t sort of break it down and get that goal,” he said. “Was it a complete project? No. I think we have a lot to work on but it was definitely better than our last home game, so I am happy with that. We’re trying to play good soccer, get a lot of numbers in the box, and create some exciting chances for people to watch.”
Emotions ran high at times late in the game, and the physicality escalated, resulting in yellow cards being issued to both sides. Hubbard views that emotion as a positive, and believes it can be used as a learning tool.
“That’s going to happen when things are tight, and we want to be in the tight situations so we can learn from them,” he said. “Would it be nice to be three or four nil up? Sure, but winning the game 1-0 is the same in terms of three points, so I think being in a tight game situation like that will help us stay on the road in terms of being a little bit mentally tough and working through it.”
Despite UMass’s 1-6 record, Albers knew that it would not be an easy game.
“We weren’t going to underestimate them, so we were just going to come out and play our game, and we had a great one,” he said. “The defense has been great, and I can’t say much more about them. They’re just locked down.”
The Wildcats had a tremendous amount of fan support at Bremner, as a sizeable crowd filled the entire sideline and provided an energy boost for the team.
“It was an awesome crowd, the biggest crowd I’ve ever been in front of, and it was a great atmosphere,” said Albers. “It was so cool, and I hope everyone can make it back to the next home game.”
The Wildcats are back in action on Tuesday as they head to Boston to take on Northeastern University. Their next home game is on Oct. 10, when Stony Brook comes to Durham.